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The Climate Change Litigation Campaign Next Stop? The U.S. House of Representatives.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will hold a hearing today titled “Examining the Oil Industry’s Efforts to Suppress the Truth about Climate Change.” Among the hearing’s witnesses are Harvard University professor Dr. Naomi Oreskes and Sharon Eubanks, former chief counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice in the tobacco litigation. Both are well-known players in the coordinated network of individuals, nonprofit organizations and academics campaigning for baseless climate litigation against energy manufacturers.

The Manufacturers’ Accountability Project (MAP) has detailed this coordinated campaign network, as well as the roles of Dr. Oreskes and Ms. Eubanks, in “Beyond the Courtroom.” This report traces the origins of the climate lawsuits and looks into the funding sources and coordination among the groups, lawyers and activists that are waging the litigation. In light of today’s hearing, it’s worth re-visiting “Chapter Two: The Complex Web of Philanthropies, Researchers and Nonprofits Supporting Litigation.” This report explains:

  • Dr. Oreskes and her colleague Geoffrey Supran are best known for their study alleging ExxonMobil misled the public on climate change. But, “The Oreskes-Supran study received criticism for manipulating data and cherry-picking materials to promote their pre-determined narrative against the company.” According to Cleveland State University professor Dr. Kimberly Neuendorf, whose research method was utilized by Oreskes and Supran, the Oreskes-Supran study included “‘a variety of fundamental errors’ and was ‘unreliable, invalid, biased, not generalizable, and not replicable.’”
  • Dr. Oreskes organized the 2012 La Jolla conference to gather the climate litigation network after the Supreme Court struck down the first wave of climate lawsuits in AEP v. Connecticut.  The focus of the conference was to figure out how to re-package the lawsuits in light of this defeat.  As the “Beyond the Courtroom” report notes, the conference “provided a roadmap for the strategies and arguments this interconnected network of philanthropists, academics, activists, and lawyers would put forth in their effort to target energy manufacturers in the courts.”
  • In 2015, Ms. Eubanks and Dr. Oreskes met with staff from the NY Attorney General’s office to discuss potential lawsuits against energy manufacturers. A year later, Eubanks attended a strategy session hosted by the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) that discussed the “Goals of the Exxon Campaign.” According to a memo obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, the strategy session focused on “coordinating tactics for various groups to target ‘industry associations,’ as well as how to coordinate their campaigns targeting state attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice.”
  • Ms. Eubanks took part in a Harvard University law clinic workshop—in partnership with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)—that “offered a unique opportunity to connect ‘climate science colleagues,’ ‘prospective funders,’ and ‘senior staff from attorney’s general offices’ in an off-the-record meeting to discuss climate liability.”

These efforts to finger-point, name-call and file litigation get us no closer to a climate change solution. The time dedicated to this climate litigation campaign, including this hearing, would be much better spent collaborating on meaningful, innovative measures that can actually have an impact on climate change. Manufacturers are ready and willing to be part of this conversation, and we look forward to hearings focused on these efforts.